3/12/2014 12:01:00 AM Commissioner invites community comment on ambulance questions
Editor's Note: This is part of series of articles about ambulatory care in this area, to provide readers with comprehensive coverage of this critical, and funding-challenged, community service. This second installment is written by Emmet County Commissioner Charlie MacInnis, who is requesting input from his constituency regarding an Emergency Services Annual Funding Requirements document produced by the county's Ambulance Advisory Committee, and how it relates to voters in Harbor Springs.
By Charlie MacInnis, Emmet County Commissioner
For the past several weeks, I have been seeking community input on a county proposal to change the way local emergency medical (ambulance) service is managed and funded.
Right now, county property owners pay a one-quarter-mill tax to reimburse Allied EMS, a private non-profit agency, and the Village of Mackinaw City for the portion of ambulance service costs not covered by insurance and other sources of funds. That levy raises a little more than $600,000 annually and expires this year. Eighty percent of the money goes to Allied; 20 percent goes to Mackinaw City.
After years of meetings, some that were contentious and adversarial, an ambulance advisory committee recently released a one-page document entitled, "Emmet County EMS Annual Funding Requirements" that was published in the Harbor Light last week. The committee includes county commissioners Larry Cassidy, Shawn Wonnacott and Les Atchison and four community members, none from Harbor Springs.
The plan would effectively put the county into the emergency medical service business and the annual cost to taxpayers would rise to an estimated $1,347,000, if approved by voters this summer. The plan doesn't specify a millage rate but it could be in the range of one-half mill if the entire amount were funded through the millage.
Allied's volunteer board of directors, made up of local community leaders, strongly opposes it.
I've met with the Harbor Springs city council, the fire and police chiefs, the executive committee of HARBOR Inc., several township supervisors, the city managers of Harbor Springs and Petoskey, community leaders, Bay Bluffs board members, Perry Farm Village's executive director and others to ask their opinions of the one-page plan. Almost to a person, they have said they need a lot more information.
First, they note that there is nothing in writing beyond the single page explaining exactly how the county plans to enter into the ambulance business. (The county's late controller, Lyn Johnson, stated on many occasions that he wanted to stay out of that business.)
They wonder what expertise the county has in this area. What are the true costs? The plan calls for $375,000 annually to build three buildings somewhere and $350,000 a year for vehicles and other equipment. They wonder if the county will end up creating a new department and staff to design and build buildings, buy ambulances and other specialized equipment, and manage this new venture.
The document doesn't say precisely where the three new ambulance buildings will be located (other than somewhere in Petoskey, Mackinaw City and along M-119). It would be logical to ask about operating, maintenance and insurance costs for the new buildings, vehicles and equipment not shown in the document.
Just about everyone wonders about the impact on ambulance service in the Harbor Springs area. They are concerned that no money is allocated for the city-owned facility on Fairview in Harbor that is used by Allied to house two vehicles and crews. Concerns have been expressed by local senior citizen facility leadership. Allied has been sustained for years by donors from Harbor Springs who have bought ambulances and radios for the benefit of the whole county. It would be logical to expect that the favor be returned.
The plan significantly reduces the reimbursement to Allied for its services to reflect the county's contributions of buildings and ambulances, which makes sense on the surface. Unfortunately, the current reimbursement level is already too low and the new buildings may not be ready for years since the plan calls for the spending on facilities to be spread over four years.
The one-page document doesn't say if any of the new buildings will have facilities for maintenance, training or administration. Allied conducts a considerable amount of training and does much of its own specialized maintenance to save on costs. Billing has to be done somewhere. The true cost of the buildings could be much higher than estimated.
Some question the plan's $100,000 allocation for medical first responders who serve rural areas. Many townships already use their own property tax levies for MFRs. Township supervisors say they are concerned that residents could be taxed twice for the same thing. Supervisors say their biggest problem with MFRs is recruitment, not training.
Everyone, even the advisory committee, agrees that Allied is already doing a great job for the community. There is also wide agreement that the county needs to do more to support its ambulance service. The real, unresolved question is, "What is the best way to do that?" People in Harbor tell me it's hard to decide without knowing more.
I need to hear from you.
HARBOR Inc. is helping me conduct a survey. Go to this link https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/harborems (direct link below)and answer the questions on line. If your web access is slow, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If all else fails, call me at 231-526-1557. Results will be compiled by HARBOR Inc. and published in a future edition of the Harbor Light.